Is It Ever Worth A Two Hour Commute To Work?
Four hours a day on the road? There must be alternatives. Modesto Bee.
Up early and on the road
By JOEL HOOD
BEE STAFF WRITER
The sun has set, casting a hazy orange glow across the California sky, and five bleary-eyed passengers emerge from a plain white van.
For them it's nearly the end of a long day that began well before sunrise.
Every weekday about 4:30 a.m., the group departs from the Vintage Faire Mall parking lot in Modesto to go to jobs in San Francisco.
Modesto Express is one of about 90 van pools that connect Stanislaus County residents with their jobs in the Bay Area.
When asked about life on the road, the travelers don't hesitate to answer.
"What life?" said Michelle Greenbaum, a Manteca resident who has worked at Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in San Francisco for 22 years.
As more Bay Area families are drawn to the Northern San Joaquin Valley because of lower home prices and "simpler lives," an increasing number are unwilling to give up their big-city jobs.
Some, like Greenbaum, commute out of a sense of loyalty to their employers. Others simply aren't willing to part with their paychecks.
Whatever the reason, the two-hour morning commute has become a way of life for many in Stanislaus County. According to 2000 census figures, the most recent available, about 14,000 commuters travel from Stanislaus County to the Bay Area on an average weekday, frequently bringing traffic to a crawl on Highway 132 and westbound Interstate 580.
The average commuter spends three to four hours a day on the road, the San Joaquin Council of Governments determined in its 2000 Altamont Pass Commuter Survey.
San Joaquin COG officials said the number of commuters is on the rise.
To help satisfy growing demand, the regional transportation agency in the past year has added three vans to its fleet of commuter vehicles that connect Stanislaus County and the Bay Area.
More than 5,000 Stanislaus and San Joaquin County residents already share rides or are looking to share rides through the agency's stateand the federally funded Commute Connection program.
Pools gaining in popularity
Van pools, like the Modesto Express, are a growing segment of commuter travel because, riders say, they're generally less expensive than trains and buses, and provide more convenient pickup and drop-off locations.
"It's the most economic and it's less stressful," said David Brooks, a local resident and Modesto Express passenger who works at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. "You never have to worry about missing your connection. You can sleep on the drive up, or talk, or just watch the road."
With so many van pools linking Stanislaus County and the Bay Area, regular riders say it's almost as flexible as driving their own vehicles.
While most vans depart from Modesto from 4 to 6 a.m. each weekday, delivering their passengers to work before their morning shifts, others leave later in the day for those who work afternoon or swing shifts, said Rosa Park, director of Commute Connection.
Typical cost $175-$200 a month
Prices also vary. Passengers typically pay $175 to $200 a month for van service, money that pays for fuel and the van lease.
Modesto Express, for example, is leased through Enterprise Rent-a-Car at a monthly rate of $1,220, Brooks said. To reduce wear and tear, Enterprise re-places the van every 100,000 miles, he said.
Van-pooling, Brooks and Park said, trumps car-pooling because the costs are shouldered by more passengers. Its cost is considerably lower than Bay Area Rapid Transit, which doesn't go farther east than Pleasanton, and the Altamont Commuter Express train, which has an easternmost stop in Manteca-Lathrop.
Some companies further reduce costs for their commuting employees by offering cash incentives for ride sharing. Wells Fargo, Brooks said, provides up to $200 a month to its employees for taking advantage of public transportation or ride sharing.
"Five years ago, we didn't have nearly as many people commuting to the Bay Area (from the Central Valley) that there are now," said Judy Leaks, the van pool services manager for the 28-year-old RIDES for Bay Area Commuters program. "It's an explosion."
A price to pay
But long-distance commuting has its drawbacks. Van poolers say they suffer from stiff backs and legs and tired eyes. They say they lose quality family time during the week because they go to bed and rise early, sometimes by 3 a.m.
To catch up on sleep, many commuters say they sleep to excess on weekends.
"(Commuting) makes for a very long day," said Terrilynee Malone, a Modesto resident who works in Livermore. "(I) can't get much personal errands done locally. (I'm forced to take) a full- or half-day leave to meet medical appointments."
But that's a small price to pay to own a home and earn enough money to comfortably provide for your family, commuters say.
"I wouldn't do it if it wasn't worth it," said Salida resident Ernest Foray, a computer engineer in Milpitas since 1988. "My family and I love living here. I can put up with some long hours at work and on the road."
They are crazy!
PeteS in CA
The Sound of One Cricket Chirping
Public opinion has most shallow eyes.
- Euripides in "Medea"
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
A had a friend in the SF Bay Area who got married, and then had a couple of kids. She and her husband wanted to raise their kids in a home they owned, in a neighborhood where they didn't have to worry about the crime and violence that was rife in the only areas they would be able to buy a Bay Area priced home.
So, they moved to the Valley, bought a home and settled in. Because my friend's husband makes that horrible commute each day, she is able to stay home to raise her children though I'm sure that money is a constant worry.
It's a sacrifice they both decided to make for the sake of their children, and I have great respect for both of them.
Gosh though, the thought of doing the stretch between here and Tracy, and then facing the Altamount pass every morning makes me shudder...and that's without even taking into account making the trip in reverse after a long day.